The Ritual of Relaxation is Foreign to Me; or, Stolen Moments.

I am a Jew. Please don't stop reading, I swear this is not a post about religion because that is something I don't typically write about on my blog.

One of the most important Jewish traditions is the ritual of observing the Sabbath, or Shabbat, which begins every Friday at sundown and ends Saturday at sundown. It is supposed to be a day of rest, reflection, and study, and for Orthodox Jews (read: not me) it also means no driving, using electricity, or doing work of any kind. One of my favorite components of Shabbat is challah, which is a braided loaf of egg bread. I really enjoy making it for my family, but I have trouble following the other Shabbat "rules," although I think I'd be better off if I did.

(this happens to be my first attempt at a 6-braid challah)
Today I sprinkled the yeast into the warm water and it bubbled and fizzed, then clouded up. The buttery smell wafted up at me as I stirred with my wooden spoon. I leveled off the sugar with the flat edge of a knife, spillage and grit.

I cracked the egg--a crack in a dream. The quick slipping of the yellow yolk through its protective shell --- its vulnerability revealed and taken.

I stir, scraping the small clumps of flour down from the sides of my favorite melamine mixing bowl.

It's methodical. I'm on auto-pilot. I know the measurements by heart. But the essence of Shabbat is lost on me. I don't know how to sit still or relax. There is always something to be done--laundry, cooking, cleaning, bathing and schlepping the kids, bathing and walking the dog, grocery shopping, ironing, etc. Having a pile of dirty dishes in the sink irks me. So do overflowing hampers. And empty refrigerators. Weeds in the yard. I can't keep up.

The mixture in the bowl thickens and my arm tires from the effort of slowly incorporating the flour. I am heady with the scent of the dough. My hands move themselves by memory, my brain is off. The stirring, the mixing, the papery feeling of flour on my palms. The grit of sugar on the floor under my bare feet, twisting the bowl this way and that as I make my final sweep around the bowl---it's like coming home.

I lay a towel over the top of the dough and let the challah rest and rise. See? Even the challah instinctively knows how to relax:

And I've suddenly realized---that times like these, wherein I'm doing something by rote, something habitual, ritual, and comforting---that this is where I find my stolen moments of relaxation. Because I don't really know how to do it any other way.

How do you find time to relax? Where do you carve out your stolen moments?

For my challah recipe, please go HERE, where it was featured about a year ago.


Memoir Monday: Mr. JC, Mrs. Lucy, a Lizard Egg and a Seahorse; or, Life is Fragile.

It's Memoir Monday, folks! Please write your own & link up with Travis over at I Like To Fish!

When I was five years old, we lived in the grey house at 3003 Creole Drive in Houma, Louisiana, and had some sweet neighbors, Mr. JC and Mrs. Lucy, who were in their 70s. Though very nice, Mr. JC was a quiet, shy man who liked to tinker with his green pick-up truck while clad in his favorite worn overalls. Mrs. Lucy, on the other hand, was a tiny thing with wiry white hair and was far more engaging than her husband. Their Boxer, appropriately named Chaos, is the reason my brother and me developed an intense fear of dogs as children. Being so young, we hadn't yet grasped the concept that if you run, the dog will surely chase you.

Mrs. Lucy loved to work in her garden and one day brought me a treasure she'd discovered there. It was in a small white gift box perched lightly on a perfect square of white cotton. An impossibly small white egg lay inside. It couldn't have been larger than the eraser on the tip of a pencil.

"It looks like a lizard egg to me," she said, peering down her nose over her glasses. "Now take good care of it until it hatches." I gently took the box and placed it on my windowsill where the sunlight streamed in, warming it a bit.

Days crawled by like clouds while my curiosity grew quickly, like a pesky clump of crab grass. With my heart pounding, knowing life was inside, I tentatively touched the egg with the tip of my finger and jumped back in fear, expecting it to wiggle about. It did not. I became brave and gingerly placed the egg on my palm. I was desperate for the baby lizard to emerge. I don't remember when I determined I could bear it no longer. While holding the egg in my left hand and ever so slightly pressing on it with the index finger of my right hand, yellow liquid began oozing out. I gasped and choked and started to cry. Where was the baby lizard Mrs. Lucy had promised?

Just then Mom came in and realized what I'd done. Shaking her head sadly, she said, "Come on, sweetheart," and guided me to the bathroom to cleanse my crime from my shaking hands.

That day I learned that life is fragile and that I needed to take responsibility.

Soon after I was visiting my Grandma Frances' house in New Orleans and paused as I washed my hands in her bathroom. In the corner next to the hand towels, Grandma had a small bowl filled with beachy things like Conch shells, starfish, and a baby seahorse. I immediately plugged up the sink and filled it to the brim with water. I put the starfish and seahorse in, naively believing I could resuscitate them, breathe life back into them, undo the harm that had been done, or perhaps redeem myself for the baby lizard fiasco.

Obviously that didn't happen.

These memories and others have shaped me into who I am. I am overprotective and imagine that my own daughters are fragile, like baby birds in danger of falling out of their nest. "Be careful," and  "Don't do that, you could hurt yourself," are phrases I utter several times a day rather than letting them figure it out on their own.

I have also learned that I am capable of hurting things or people. I am scared to reach out, for fear I might crush someone. That my love will be overwhelming and too much, suffocating.

I also carry a heavy burden. I have an overwhelming love for all living creatures, big or small. It physically pains me to see them hurting or suffering. That is one thing about this oil spill that I cannot forgive myself for---because I have done this. We have all had a role in this---this need and greed for oil. We need it too much. I feel so guilty and responsible lately, with this crushing weight on my chest. I killed the lizard and I couldn't save the seahorse or the starfish. And I certainly can't save the pelicans, the turtles, the birds, the hermit crabs or the fish, let alone the beaches and the Gulf.

Life is so fragile. We are balancing on a precarious tightrope.

But is there a safety net?

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